Resources for Readers

DaVinciWhat to read? When I was young (a very long time ago) my mother took my sisters and me to visit the public library every week. This was “free” entertainment, and as we were fairly poor, it was a great deal. However, there was that day when I’d read everything of interest to me in the children’s and young readers category. Again, this was a long time ago, when “young adult” publications were not a big category. I remember her guiding me over to the adult fiction section (meaning not for kids, but nothing racy—it was a public library) and she suggested some titles. My first reads from that section were what mom would term “mysteries” although romantic suspense would be closer to the genre of that time. The authors were Phyllis A. Whitney and Mary Stewart, although I can’t remember the titles. So began my transition into reading for pleasure, an activity that is still a big part of my life.

Mom has been gone for a long time, as she had cancer and died before she should have, but there are plenty of other places to find recommendations for reading. I do belong to way too many Facebook Groups, and most of those have advertising that I largely ignore. For a time, Amazon was my favorite place to find books, and while it is a source for content, the weirdo reviews have made it less and less reliable for recommendations. Also, big A encourages authors to buy ads, making it even less relevant. If you are lonely and want to be inundated by promotional emails, there are lots of sites that promote books via that route, but by and large that content comes from paid ads, so it’s not reliable either. I read a lot of eBooks these days, and my public library has a few thousand titles, but I’ve noticed that far too many of them are “reprints” wherein established authors are giving their backlist titles new life, and I have either read those books are wasn’t interested the first time. So, what to do?

There are some solutions. First, check out Goodreads. It’s now owned by Amazon, but it seems to work quasi-independently from big A, so the reviews are more often by serious readers. Authors can have a “page” on Goodreads, too, which can be helpful. If you like a certain genre, typically there are blogs that feature books of interest. As a lover of science fiction romance, I like this blog: SFR Brigade. Some authors maintain a blog or a Facebook group, so check on a favorite writer’s web presence. Often writers will mention fellow writers or their own favorite reads. I’ve really enjoyed Susan Grant’s books and her blog, Come Fly with Me (now found via her website).

In addition to big A, readers sometimes leave reviews on traditional bookstore sites such as Barnes and Noble and Books a Million. As these sites primarily serve readers, the reviews tend to be written more literate customers. There may be fewer reviews, but I believe they are more reliable.

Also, if you know others who like to read, try forming a book club. My sister belongs to such a club, and members propose which books to read. She’s given me some suggestions of books that were well-received by her group, such as my current read: DaVinci, by Walter Issacs. It’s fascinating, and I would never have chosen it without the recommendation of that group over in Richmond, Virginia.

 

 

The Heart of a Dog by Albert Payson Terhune

The Heart of A Dog by Albert Payson TerhuneWhen I was a kid, I read The Heart of a Dog, a collection of short stories by Albert Payson Terhune, over and over. The collection of seven stories is good for adults more so than children. One of the things I did when I first began teaching was to read to my middle school students, and I did read a story, The Meanest Man, from this book to them. Although it was first published in the 1920s, these stories are still very interesting.

All of the stories feature a different member The Sunnybank Collies, and the stories have various themes. One tale of survival, “One Minute Longer,” has a plot wherein a young man gets trapped in some icy water and his life depends on the efforts of his collie friend, Wolf, managing to this convey the situation to the adults back home. This story holds up quite well for modern readers, and it has been used in reading anthologies in the past, but the references to hunting and guns wouldn’t make it past modern censorship. In “Youth Will Be Served” the reader follows the difficult decision of dog show judge Angus McGilead, who wants to award the best in show prize to the old favorite collie, Bruce, but realizes that the young collie Jock, sired by Bruce, should win. Yet, the decision is his, and his alone. Okay, this sounds so boring, but it isn’t because the author does a great job of describing every aspect of the dog show, along with criteria used by dog show judges to pick the best of the best.

“The Meanest Man” is my favorite story. It is about a farmer, Link Harris, a well-trained collie, Chum, and the dog catcher, Eben Shunk. Even those who haven’t read it will know who the meanest man is, but the way that Link and Chum deal with him make this story very amusing, if rather dated. Anyway, my students liked it quite a lot, and according to my notes (still in the book) it takes 45 minutes to read aloud.

I’ve linked to the Kindle edition of this book, because it is a very good deal. The copy of The Heart of a Dog  that I have looks like the one pictured, because it was issued by a children’s book club. If you are ever antiquing and see one of these editions, grab it, because the illustrations are cool, too.

Honor Harrington—revisited

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Quite a while back, when I decided to abandon the best seller list and read what I like and only that, I first read David Weber’s Honor Harrington series. Back then, I had a membership in a “Science Fiction” book club, because the internet, as a commercial arena, was in its infancy, so I learned of new titles and authors via the club “magazine” which was, of course, a monthly sales brochure. I began with In Enemy Hands and, quite frankly, I didn’t like the book all that much. The author seemed to spend many more pages focusing on characters and events which were not about the intriguing protagonist, Honor Harrington, and there were so many concepts that I didn’t understand, such as why she had a “treecat” perched on her shoulder, and why everyone was so horrified when the bad guys tried to kill it. Clearly, there was more back story than I was understanding, so I used my dial-up connection and learned that I’d entered a series that was already several books long. I slogged through the book, thinking that I’d have to figure this out, and later I did order On Basilisk Station from Amazon, and met a younger Captain Harrington, as she takes her first starship command, into a backwater area with a bit of backstory, political intrigue, and lots to admire in the main character. But, that book didn’t make me stay up half the night, either. BTW, when I book robs me of sleep, I know its really good.

Still, this Harrington lady was undoubtedly worthy of more of my time, so I moved on to The Honor of the Queen. That one was a homerun, out of the park. When Honor loses her mentor and risks everything to save the beautiful yet backward plant of Grayson, I could hardly turn the pages fast enough. Often, sophomore entries in series are weak, but not in this series. Weber’s heroine moves through space, time, and political intrigue in the next entries, The Short, Victorious War and Field of Dishonor, a weak book if read outside of the series, but important in the complete story line, then The Flag in Exile, which is my second favorite of the series, perhaps because Honor saves Grayson again. Or maybe its the scene where she cuts an enemy “from the nave to the chaps” with a later day version of a samarai sword, in front of the ruling body of the entire planet. Then, Honor revisits both friends and enemies from the debut novel in Honor Among Enemies, which also has a strong story line. Only after these six rather lengthy novels is the stage set for the rather dark entry, In Enemy Hands, which was my introduction to Honor Harrington. When I read it again, after reading the first six books, I liked it better, but it is still a dark chapter in Harrington’s long life.

Recently, I picked up the second book, The Honor of the Queen, as a Kindle Freebie from Amazon, and I was hooked all over again. In the past couple of weeks, I re-read it, plus books 3, 4, 5, and 6 in the series. Since I know how it all comes out, well, up until book 11 or so, when I quit reading the series, my zeal for Honor’s exploits is fading a bit. However, anyone who likes military science fiction, or merely a strong heroine, would probably enjoy Books 2-6 of Weber’s Honor Harrington series. As the series has grown longer, it has attracted more and more fans, so there are a number of reviews and sites where readers can learn more, such as the Honorverse Wiki. Honestly, there are few authors who have Weber’s talent, and almost none who have it plus his level of productivity, for in addition to the Honor Harrington series, he has other series, along with some great stand alone novels such as Apocalypse Troll and In Fury Born.

How can I summarize David Weber’s contribution to science fiction? To my pleasure reading? How about, “Wow!”